Archaeologists have found a toy mouse at the site of Vindolanda, an ancient Roman military fort and settlement on Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, northern England.
The toy mouse measures 12.2 cm (4.8 inches) long and 2.6 cm (1 inch) wide and has been dated to 105-130 CE. It has markings across the body to indicate the fur and eyes.
“The bag of scrap leather in which it was hidden inside was uncovered in 1993 during an excavation of a room inside the period IV/V Commanding Officer’s Residence, when the first cohort of Tungrians were stationed at the site,” said Vindolanda curator Barbara Birley and colleagues.
They think the artifact may have been a child’s toy, or possibly even used as a practical joke.
“One of the most wonderful things about the Vindolanda collection is that we never know what we are going to find next,” Dr. Birley said.
“Even though we have had to delay the start of our 2020 excavations this year we see the collection still has hidden treasures to be revealed.”
“Although we have a significant amount of evidence of children at Vindolanda we have very few toys, it would be wonderful if this little mouse had been a toy and a source of entertainment for a child here on the northern frontier.”
Mice were indeed everywhere in Vindolanda and would have been a consistent pest and companion to the people who lived there.
“When the Vindolanda granaries were excavated in 2008, the bones from thousands of dead mice were uncovered below the floors of the building, where they had been living and feasting on the ears of grain that dropped between the flagstones,” the researchers said.
“It is quite wonderful that someone 1,900 years ago crafted this toy mouse from leather, in the knowledge that their creation would not have sharp teeth nor eat them out of house and home.”